Chalky Chai and Backyard Roses

We awoke before the sun and eventually chased it down the highway. For miles, our eyes inhaled a large circular mass of vibrant orange. Eventually, the road lulled me to sleep. When I awoke, our car was inches away from kissing a cow with the front bumper. Welcome to India.

Though my sister and I have been to India multiple times for work, we’d never laid eyes upon the Taj Mahal. On this particular trip, we were in India for less than 48 hours. Our flight home departed in the evening and left some unscheduled time ripe with possibility. My sister is a queen when it comes to weeding through reviews, and she spent time cozying up to Google to scroll through endless possibilities the night before our departure. Next thing I knew, we were pulling out the plastic to purchase a nonrefundable tour. Never mind that I was experiencing a mild case of Delhi belly—adventure is an open invitation that waits for no one.

After a brief rest, our alarm begged us to rejoin the world with bleary eyes. Groggy and still feeling sick, I stumbled to piece together an outfit. Our tour was scheduled to begin at 6:00 a.m. and my bag wasn’t fully packed. When we rolled our luggage into the lobby, I met Bobby, our driver. His cheery demeanor was reminiscent of Yogi Bear and I instinctively knew that this was the beginning of something wonderful.

Halfway through the three-hour ride, Bobby pulled into an Indian truck stop. In the lot were rows of occupied wooden beds. When we stepped out of the vehicle, one man leaned on his forearms to get a better look. Others joined him. Behind my sunnies, I looked like the walking dead, but this guy was willing to risk indents on his forearms for a solid glance. These were the longest five minutes of our three-hour trek. Maybe the vulture-like gazes were friendly. But maybe not. When Bobby reappeared, he broke the ice with three piping hot terracotta cups filled with fresh chai. It was a little chalky thanks to the terracotta, but the tea itself was perfection.

At this point, we were only halfway to the Taj Mahal. Bobby suddenly swerved when a peacock, the national bird of India, ran across the street. First there was a cow, then there was a timely chai break, and now a peacock. In the midst of all of the action, my sister and I grew hungry. Thankfully, we had purchased some exotic snacks the night before. Crumbs spilled into our laps as we bit into the perfectly round cookies filled with nuts, ginger, cardamom, an abundance of flax seeds, and other unknown spices. The sudden burst of flavor overwhelmed my taste buds. Miraculously, my stomach behaved the entire drive.

When we arrived at the Taj, we met our tour guide, Sunny. He was adorable, but I could tell that he was disappointed that we weren’t wearing saris. I knew this was true, because he told us. Is it too late now to say sari? In any case, we marched to the Taj in our ordinary clothes and, oh my gracious, I have never seen something so beautiful or symmetrical in all my life. The details were breathtaking. As we walked around the site, Sunny casually mentioned something that I will never forget. He said, “Many people in India haven’t been to the Taj. They say tomorrow, tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes.” It was a flippant comment, but I contemplated it for the rest of the day.

How many times a week (or even in a day) do I put important things off? My laundry has been in the dryer for over four days now and my room has been a no-entry zone ever since my return from India. In the midst of work deadlines and actively shielding my eyes from chores, I had lunch with one of my best friends. She’s moving soon and I won’t have as many opportunities to soak in her kindness. I returned home and my house looked the same, but my heart was light.

Perhaps a better and more fulfilling question is, how many times a week (or even in a day) do I put important people off?

Seeing the Taj Mahal was incredible and worthwhile, but it was worthwhile because of who I was with—my sister. In hindsight, the moments that I treasure the most are the ones that I spend with the people I love. Hmm. Maybe I should invite someone over to sit with with me while I put away my laundry?

All jokes aside, Sunny was right. People wait to do the things that matter to them until it’s too late. People wait for love, they wait for their lover to change, they wait for more money, and they wait for a rainy day that may never come. I don’t want to be a spectator in life and miss out on truly living. Mostly, I don’t want to wait to explore the incredible humans that are in my life. They’re more valuable than the Taj Mahal, and I want to marvel at everything they have to offer this world before it’s too late. Some might value destinations or experiences, but Sunny’s comment made me realize the importance of valuing people in the moment.

This entire spontaneous trip was a beautiful reminder to stop and smell the roses within my own backyard instead of yearning for the ones that grow across the globe. I want to appreciate people and learn how to hold them as close as if they were one of the seven wonders of the world.

Author & Illustrator – Courtney Werner

Courtney Werner is a storyteller and illustrator based out of Austin, TX. She enjoys days that start with the letter T, sparkling water, innovation, getting lost in new cities, and succinct conversations (not necessarily in that order).

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